I picked up E.M. Delafield's Consequences when I was last in London. The Persephone blurb on the shelf promised a story about a young woman who failed to conform to expectations at the end of the Victorian period, and that alone was enough for me to pick the book off the shelf. Domesticity and femininity are my bread and butter, and there was no way I was passing that up.
I finally sat down to read Consequences last weekend, having taken the book with me to Neuchâtel. It started out slowly but surely, following Alex, the protagonist, through her childhood. Alex reminded me a bit of myself in the early chapters –– technically pretty, talented, and promising but a bit off as a child, never quite fitting in with the other children. With me, that was because anxiety and only child syndrome plagued me early on, causing me to act like I deserved and needed to be the center of attention. With Alex, it seemed to be about a need for affection and attention. I consequently emotionally invested myself in the story and buckled in for a very angsty and uncomfortable ride. Alex took everything to the extreme, desperate for friendship and human affection, developing deep and overwhelming crushes on others that often caused her to self-destruct.
Alex's inability to conform never went away, causing her to have a disastrous first season (as a débutante) in London. First she makes no impression on those around her, then she breaks up her engagement to a boring and self-centered man because she knows deep down that he will never make her happy. (Yay!) When her family is distraught and she understands that marriage is her only option, she emotionally latches on to a nun and decides to give up the material world herself. All this before the mid-point of the book.
I won't give away any more, but I will say that angst really is the driving force of the book. Everything about it is about deep and unrestrained feeling. I often found myself needing to put it down to recover or to cringe. Alex had my sympathy throughout, and reading of a Victorian heroine like her was refreshing. It's such a shame that novels like Consequences were forgotten or rather, never really allowed to find success because of their content. I'm thankful that I've come across it now, and I'm excited to work it into my proposed PhD corpus!
To end, I will include my favorite funny passage from the book:
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.